Local psych experts weigh in on mental illness and mass murders

CHAPEL HILL, NC (WTVD) -- The tragic south Florida school shooting that's left 17 dead has left many wondering what exactly were the signs pointing to mental illness when it comes to shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz.

UNC psychiatrist Dr. Jim Bedford said it's impossible to know what mix of mental traits may make a mass murder.

"We as mental health professionals really cannot predict accurately who is going to exhibit violent behavior," he said, "and so the approach to this kind of situation has to be one of public health, of reducing risk factors of reducing access to violent means."

Duke psychologist Dr. George Ake agreed.

"It's a public health issue because it doesn't just impact the direct victims or those that are connected to it ... it impacts everyone who has a child that's going to school that worries that this is going to happen to them," Ake said.

At the same time, Bedford encourages children to feel comfortable talking to their school counselors or adults if they are concerned about a classmate.

While Bedford said there is no pattern of behavior that perfectly predicts whether a person will take violent action, he did say school shooters tend to exhibit the following behavior:

  • Exclusion
  • Bullying
  • Lack of friendship
  • Callous or unemotional traits

Adding more counselors was a big part of Wake County's budget request in 2017 - asking more than $20 million for various new and expanding programs, including those counselors.

The request stated, "the American School Counselor Association recommends one school counselor for every 250 students."

According to the proposed budget, Wake County schools have one counselor for every 630 students in elementary schools, one for every 393 students in their high schools, with one social worker for every 1,860 students.

"Children need to have access to mental health treatment in a timely manner," Bedford said, "regardless of their circumstances, and children who are experiencing any kind of mental health difficulties shouldn't have access to weapons of war."

If you or your family are seeking counselling resources after the shooting, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends the following:

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